Almost 125,000 Scottish school exam results downgraded – but pass rates rise

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has downgraded 124,564 pupils’ results despite no exams being sat – 93.1% of all the moderated grades.

Exam pass rates rose at every level and would have been the highest on record without the SQA downgrading some submitted results, Education Secretary John Swinney said.

Pupils across Scotland received their exam results on Tuesday morning.

More than a quarter (26.2%) of grades were moderated by the SQA, a total of 133,762, while 377,308 entries were accepted unchanged.

The coronavirus lockdown caused exams to be scrapped for the first time, with teachers submitting estimated grades based on previous results, predicted attainment and evidence of past work.

After SQA moderation, the National 5 pass rate was 81.1%, the Higher pass rate was 78.9% and the Advanced Higher pass rate was 84.9%.

The pass rates have risen from 78.2%, 74.8% and 79.4% respectively.

The SQA revealed 128,508 results – 96.1% of those adjusted – rose or fell by one grade.

A total of 45,454 entries (8.9%) were moderated down from grades A-C to grade D or to no award.

Mr Swinney said the SQA will ensure “sufficient resources are in place” for the free appeals process, allowing teachers and pupils to challenge specific results.

Grades were adjusted “where a centre’s estimates were outside the constraint range for that course”, the SQA chief examining officer’s report said.

SQA Chief Examining Officer Fiona Robertson said it is not possible to determine why the overall estimated grades are higher than previous years, adding: “There may be several reasons why estimates were above historic attainment, which has been relatively stable over time.

“Some teachers and lecturers may have been optimistic, given the circumstances of this year, or may have believed, correctly or incorrectly, that this cohort of candidates may have achieved better grades due to a range of factors.”

Mr Swinney said: “In the face of an incredibly tough few months for pupils and teachers, we can today celebrate the achievements of all learners.

“Young people have received awards that recognise their hard work and allow them to move onto the next stage in their lives.”

Mr Swinney added he is “immensely grateful” to teachers and the SQA for their work to ensure pupils received results after the cancellation of exams.

“While comparisons with previous years need to be considered carefully, given the disruption to learning this year this is a good set of results for our learners,” he said.

“This year’s results also show there has been a narrowing of the attainment gap at grades A-C between the most and least disadvantaged young people, which is now narrower this year for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher than last year, or indeed the average for the last four years.”

Scottish Attainment Challenge
John Swinney thanked teachers and the SQA on results day (Tom Eden/PA)

On the moderation process, which has received criticism for considering schools and colleges’ standards, Mr Swinney said: “All exam systems rely on an essential process known as moderation to uphold standards.

“This ensures an A grade is the same in every part of the country, making the system fair for everyone, and across all years.

“As the national exams body, only the SQA can maintain the consistency and the integrity of our qualifications.

“This year, by necessity, the moderation model is different and has been subject to additional scrutiny.”

He added: “Teachers and lecturers applied their judgments against national standards and today’s data shows that three out of every four grade estimates were not adjusted by the SQA.

“Without moderation, pass rates at grades A-C compared to last year would have increased by 10.4 percentage points for National 5, by 14 percentage points for Higher and by 13.4 percentage points for Advanced Higher – annual change never been seen in Scottish exam results.

“I know teachers and lecturers will always want the best for their pupils but I believe that teachers have acted professionally.

“I know that learners who did not achieve what they were expecting will be disappointed, however, the SQA will be operating a free appeals process this year.”

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